Carrot Cake Cinnamon Rolls combine the pillowy softness of cinnamon rolls with the warm flavors of carrot cake, and the result is the most perfect springtime pastry.
Guys, I did something. I was nervous about how it would turn out, but sometimes in the kitchen, as in life, you just have to take risks.
Luckily for us, the risk paid off big time.
Yes. I combined two of my very favorite baked goods – cinnamon rolls and carrot cake – into one. The marriage of these two is seriously a match made in heaven.
Carrot cake is like a big hug, if food could be a hug. The flavors are warm and comforting from the spices, but it’s also spring-like (and healthy-ish) because carrots, and smooth and creamy with the tangy cream cheese frosting.
I’ve loved carrot cake since I was very young, when we used to go to a bakery on a farm near my house on Sundays and get big slices with those bright orange and green icing carrots on top.
I have a recipe for a single layer carrot cake already, but this past weekend I could not contain my mad scientist idea to combine the spiced flavors of carrot cake with the warm, gooey, comfort-anytime meal better known as cinnamon rolls. You can’t be unhappy when you have cinnamon rolls, it’s just a fact. So really, this recipe is like a giant bear hug to you. And it’s perfect to share that bear hug with those you love for Easter brunch!
I adapted this recipe from my version of the classic: Cinnamon Rolls with Cream Cheese Icing. It’s the easiest cinnamon roll recipe I’ve ever made, in that it doesn’t require kneading, and the dough is made in a Dutch oven! No mixer necessary, just a wooden spoon and a rolling pin. That’s the kind of baking I like.
Oh yes, look at those gluten strings there on the right. That’s how we know we’re getting somewhere.
Making Carrot Cake Cinnamon Rolls
People think since cinnamon rolls are so delicious and yeasty, they must be difficult to make. Not so. We just heat milk, oil and sugar in our pot, add the yeast (when the mixture is cool enough not to kill it), and then we add our carrot, spices, and flour. Let that sit on the stove for an hour or so, until it’s doubled in size. Then add some more flour, some baking powder and soda and salt, and roll that baby out.
I do half the dough at a time to make it easier – also, because I live in an apartment and my counter is very small.
I added cozy carrot cake spices to the dough AND the filling for these carrot cake cinnamon rolls, for extra spiced oomph. We mix it together with brown sugar for warm sweetness. This is going to be good.
Spread some melted butter on the dough, then add the sugar mixture on top. Starting with the long edge furthest from you (the top of the dough in this picture), roll the dough towards you, moving your hands evenly back and forth along it, until you have a coiled dough.
Cut it into 8 even slices (I used my bench scraper for this, but a very sharp knife will work too), then load it in a round cake pan.
Look at all that carrot in there! This is totally healthy…
These rolls get another little rest on the stove before you put them in the oven, so they can expand to their full glory. When they come out of the oven, the smell is aromatic and heavenly.
While you’re waiting for them to come out, whisk together some cream cheese, butter, sugar, vanilla, and milk for our glaze. So simple. So good. This is how every Easter brunch should be.
Gooey, soft, sweet, spiced and warm. Serve with some hot coffee and a lazy Sunday. I topped my rolls with some toasted coconut for extra carrot cake flavor – totally up to you. If you’re a purist with your carrot cake, I totally understand. For example, I don’t know why anyone adds pineapple to carrot cake, but that’s a gripe for another day.
This recipe goes down as one of my favorites I’ve ever created. I hope you love it too! Happy Easter!
Carrot Cake Cinnamon Rolls
For the Carrot Cake Cinnamon Rolls:
- 2 cups milk (I used whole milk, but full fat coconut milk works too)
- 1/2 cup canola oil (or another neutral oil)
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1 packet active dry yeast (2 1/4 teaspoons)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 1/2 cups finely grated carrots (from about 3 medium carrots – I use my food processor to grate them)
- 3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1/2 teaspoon allspice
- 1/2 teaspoon ginger
- 4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, divided (see below)
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
For the Filling:
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter (1 stick), melted
- 1 cup brown sugar, not packed
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1/4 teaspoon ginger
- 1/4 teaspoon allspice
For the Cream Cheese Icing:
- 4 ounces cream cheese (room temperature)
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter (1/2 stick), softened
- 1 cup powdered (confectioner’s) sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste
- Pinch of salt
- 1/4 cup milk of choice (or more if necessary)
For the Cinnamon Rolls:
- Combine the milk, oil, and sugar in a large pot (I used a ) and place over medium heat until just before boiling. Turn off the heat and let the mixture cool until just warm to the touch, about 105-110 degrees F. This is called scalding the milk and we do this to denature the whey proteins and allow for better gluten development. Can you skip it and just use warm milk? Yes, but your dough may be stickier and you'll have to chill it before rolling.
- Sprinkle the yeast over the top of the milk mixture and let sit for 1-2 minutes. Add the vanilla, grated carrot, spices, and 4 cups of the flour and stir with a wooden spoon until an evenly combined dough has formed.
- Cover and let sit on the stove (with the oven on if your kitchen is cold) to rise for about 1 hour. Check after 30 minutes to make sure it is rising. By the end of the hour, it should have doubled in size and smell yeasty.
- Add the remaining 1/2 cup flour along with the baking powder, baking soda, and salt, and stir until completely combined. It should be a well-formed, stiff, non-sticky dough. If your dough seems too sticky to roll out, see the recipe notes below.
- Divide the dough in half and roll one half out on a floured surface to about a 12×8 inch rectangle. In a small bowl, stir together brown sugar and spices.
- Spread half the melted butter evenly over the dough (you may not need it all), then sprinkle half the brown sugar mixture over top.
- Starting with the long edge farthest from you, roll the dough towards you, moving your fingers evenly back and forth along the dough, until it is tightly coiled with seam down. Cut into 8 even rolls with a sharp knife or unflavored dental floss, and place in a greased pie plate or 9-inch round cake pan.
- Repeat steps 5 and 6 with the second half of the dough.
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. While it is preheating, let the rolls rest on top of the oven for 15-20 minutes, until slightly risen. Bake for 20-22 minutes, until golden brown. Make the cream cheese icing while the rolls are baking.
For the Cream Cheese Icing:
- Whisk together cream cheese and butter in a medium bowl until completely combined and smooth. Add vanilla and salt and whisk again. Whisk in powdered sugar until fully blended. Add milk, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the mixture reaches a pourable, but still thick, consistency.
- Pour and spread the icing evenly over the warm cinnamon rolls in the pan, making sure the tops of the rolls are completely covered. Serve warm with coffee and watch people’s eyes light up with unadulterated joy!
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I won’t admit how many of these Brian and I ate all by ourselves, because it’s too embarrassing.